The Business Case for Emotionally Healthy Leadership
In our current world, complexity continues to escalate bringing new expectations and pressures for leaders. Surveys and studies indicate global job dissatisfaction is at a two-decade high. Disengaged employees account for nearly 70 percent of the workforce, according to data from Towers Watson. The rates of disengagement (and lack of retention) can be attributed, in part, to poor leadership. Effective management requires authenticity, vulnerability and positivity; it requires emotionally healthy leadership.
Emotions have a function in organizations and business, even in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) global environments. Negative and positive emotions have a role in results. Negative emotions serve in limiting our thoughts and behaviors, and can help us act more decisively in times of stress or crisis. Positive emotions, or positivity, open us to different ideas, possibilities and solutions. It fosters crucial human moments that go beyond optimism and a smiling face.
Like it or not, you are vulnerable to irrational thinking. It’s easy to allow emotions to sway discernment. But when a leader loses objectivity, when awareness of thought and feeling are lost, vision, understanding, clarity and agility are compromised. Gaining equanimity—a balance of your thoughts and feelings—allows for creative solutions and skillful decisions. It requires a true understanding of self.
Meaningful self-discovery requires honesty, stamina and feedback from others, and is perhaps the most challenging area of leadership.
To begin, consider your emotional tendencies. Identify your responses to pressure (behavior and emotions), especially during any moments of stress or trial. Develop an intention to name a feeling or emotion as you experience it.
Do you find any automatic or knee-jerk responses? Are you quick to anger or become frustrated? Are you hesitating or unable to make decisions? How do you respond to fear? Anxiety? Deadlines?
What are the results of your responses? For example, do you feel resentment? Contempt? Pessimistic? How do your feelings, and/or responses to feelings, impact your relationships? Work environment? Corporate culture? As you identify your emotions, explore the thoughts and actions that preceded. You may notice patterns, especially if you are making notes.
Denial, avoidance, over-delegating and intimidation are defense mechanisms. A habit of these responses indicates a difficulty in coping with stress, so consider working with a trusted mentor or coach for objective feedback and support.
Stress is inevitable, so it’s crucial that every leadership position (and leader) is able to manage it effectively.
Eustress—the good stress—strengthens our mental and physical abilities. When any amount of stress occurs, it triggers the neurological system in a three-step process:
- Recognize the danger.
- Fuel the reaction.
- Remember the event for future reference.
This automatic defense system manages attention, energy and memory. It’s the building block for wisdom and our ability to achieve peak performance.
The key to managing stress is to be aware of fear and pessimism; these emotions can compound stressful moments, feeding unhelpful emotions and responses.
Positive emotions, rational thought and gut feel have a place in discernment and decision making, report the Global Leadership Foundation in Emotional Health & Leadership. Assess each situation, and identify the best balance.
When stressful moments are viewed as temporary situations, identifying negative emotions becomes easier. Emotional health requires personal responsibility and accountability; it requires practice thoughtful, beneficial responses rather than automatic reactions. And it’s worth it.
Multi-dimensional individuals who rely on their proven abilities and strengths lead with more confidence. They trust their skills. But if you find yourself worrying about your reputation (what others think about you), taking the trial personally (when you are not personally responsible) or projecting the worst, you may be lacking confidence.
Just as we can think ourselves into a frenzy, we can act ourselves out of this frenzy. The mind is so powerful that we can set off a stress response just by imagining ourselves in a threatening situation. As the mind can affect the body, the body can affect the mind. The simple act of taking a deep breath and smiling produces a calming effect.
The Power of Positive Thinking
The power of positive thinking is no longer seen as a feel-good ideal with little bearing on business results. It affects heart rhythms and body chemistry, reduces muscle tension and improves relationships. Positivity infuses our outlook, mindset and emotional health.
“Positive leadership refers to the implementation of multiple positive practices that help individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise.” – Kim S. Cameron, PhD, in Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013).
Leaders who simultaneously focus on positive contributions from others as they complete tasks to reach challenging goals enjoy higher performance outcomes:
- Better decisions. Managers with greater positivity are more accurate and careful in making decisions, and are more effective interpersonally, according to researchers at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.
- Better team work. Managers with positive emotions infect their work groups with similar feelings and show improved team coordination, while reporting less effort to accomplish more.
- Better negotiating. When people negotiate complex bargains, positivity again surfaces as a contributing factor for success, reports researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
What is your outlook? Are assignments seen as burdens, or opportunities? Are you quick to forgive, or do you hold grudges? Do you focus on fault, or find solutions?
If you see a pattern of negative thinking or behavior, challenge it. Compare past negative and positive experiences. Inject realism, with the help from others, to expose negative thinking. It will lose its validity and power. This makes room for positive points of view and a broader perspective.
Assumptions and unjustified judgements lead to unfortunate and ill-advised decisions. Leaders who manage a balanced perspective with accurate facts find healthier solutions. Positive thinking lays the foundation for positive results, and inspires positivity in others.
The world needs emotionally healthy leaders. Become an expert in your emotional health. Authenticity, vulnerability and positivity are your keys to success. Let me know how I can help you uncover your potential to be the change you want to see; send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIN.